(The gist: Cooties was extremely fun to watch at the Stanley Film Festival. The movie is hilarious yet also manages to still be scary. Plus it allows you to excise any rage or aggression you may have ever felt toward children.)
Cooties was potentially the perfect movie to kick off the 2015 Stanley Film Festival. I had my doubts as my partner and I were huddled under our daughter’s rainbow polka dot umbrella (very horror) on the grounds of The Stanley Hotel, getting pelted by a cold Rocky Mountain rain as we waited to get in. Yet Cooties proved to be a horror comedy that was more than worth it.
Cooties is about Clint, who has returned to his childhood elementary school as a substitute teacher. A tainted and disgusting chicken nugget starts a prepubescent epidemic in the school, turning the children into murderous zombie-esque little monsters. Clint and the other teachers are left to try to survive and escape the elementary school.
As a parent of two young children (younger even than elementary school), I can appreciate what little monsters children can be. I also have a group of friends who are school teachers, lending me a little insight into the ridiculous amount of frustration they deal with. Cooties definitely embraces the idea that while you love your children/students, you can also hate them too. Watching Cooties truly takes out any aggressions you may have ever felt toward your children (or students).
Hurting children in film has always been somewhat taboo. When child murder or injury is used, it is usually to evoke a strong emotional reaction. We are all biologically programmed to be upset by it, after all. Cooties challenges this taboo and accomplishes successful execution by expertly walking a very fine line. The first killing of a child is taken very seriously and is a turning point for the plot and characters; then each subsequent death is administered with the right amount of comedy.
In the end, you leave not feeling guilty for hating children at times or for enjoying watching them take a softball or hockey stick to the face.
Cooties also dances along the line between horror and comedy with precision. As I discussed when I recently reviewed The Voices, I definitely prefer more horror in my ratio. I want my horror comedies to still be horror and more than just blood FX. Cooties manages to strike a near-perfect balance of the two. I laughed, hysterically at times, and was also genuinely creeped out and/or jumped.
For me, the scary part of Cooties is auditory, which is rare for me. The film characterizes the infected children by the sounds they make, even more so than by the blisters or blood on their faces. And it is that sound that is so scary. The piercing shriek they make affected me on a physical level. It hurt my ears; it made me cringe. That reaction in my body made the viewing experience so much more complete. It was more than just my cognitive brain processing the film images.
The gore is also on point and another vehicle for balancing horror and comedy. Yes, it is horrific to see human intestines ripped from a teacher’s body, yet it is hilarious to watch a zombie-like child jumping rope with those intestines.
The comedy is maybe the best I have seen in a horror comedy. The movie is simply hysterical. I laughed out loud and hard on numerous occasions, along with the rest of the theater (and alone with my partner at a couple of inappropriate moments). The dialogue is fresh and witty, and the characters are so vivid and unique. Each character is fully realized, and that development is done so well that it is transparent; they just feel like real people, real, flawed teachers. The combination of these characters and their dialog is all so funny, which made watching the movie purely fun.
And somehow, Cooties could transition nearly seamlessly between a comical dialog and an extremely creepy shrieking monster child. Everything that works for me with Cooties has to do with striking the perfect balance, with achieving the perfect timing. All of the cinematic elements just lined up for me, making it not about dissecting the film but more about enjoying it.
Obviously, I loved it. I cannot wait to gather my contingent of teacher friends and take them when Cooties hits theaters in September.
Cooties was also my first festival viewing experience. It has set the bar high for those that will follow in this weekend. Standing in the rain was unpleasant, but Stanley Film Festival transformed The Stanley Hotel’s concert hall into a very convincing movie theater. A selection of the filmmakers and actors were in attendance, and they were extremely personable and entertaining during the introduction and following Q&A.
I exited the theater walking between Elijah Wood and Alison Pill. It was surreal to be so physically close to people I had just stared at on the big screen for over an hour. I could not bring myself to go all fangirl on them, but it just made for an even better experience.
There was even a chicken nugget eating contest at the opening night party after the screening. It may be a while before I eat a chicken nugget again.